Cottonwood official accused of altering drinking water test results

Posted at 8:58 AM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 21:38:55-04

A state grand jury indicted the foreman with the City of Cottonwood on felony charges after allegedly changing test results of drinking water. 

"This area has a long history of cancer that was at a higher level," said Sherry Twamly, a concerned resident. "I believe now that the spotlight is on the city, they are going to be forced to comply."

According to Arizona Attorney General's Office, Hans Burnett allegedly instructed subordinate employees to modify test results and paperwork with water compliance samples from 2015 to 2016. 

The altered results reportedly involved changing positive results for bacterial contamination to negative results. Those results were then submitted to state regulators of drinking water with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the AG's office, the bacteria included coliform.

According to a health department website, "Coliforms are bacteria that are always present in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and are found in their wastes. They are also found in plant and soil material." Most forms of the bacteria do not cause disease, however, a rare form includes E. Coli and can cause serious illness, the site says.

Doug Bartosh, Cottonwood City Manager, says he thinks the problem is just employees not doing their job the way they should have been doing it.

"I think the city has done a tremendous job taking a dilapidated, poorly maintained water system and building it into something better. You really hope all that good work doesn't get lost in that one incident of someone's poor performance," Bartosh said. "We understand it was a contaminated testing environment. The contamination was not in the water but in the environment. Quite honestly they should have reported it and gone forward, but they didn't."

Hans Burnett is facing felony charges of fraudulent schemes and practices, as well as forgery. 

The Mayor of Cottonwood, Tim Elinski, issued the following statement in regards to the charges against Burnett:

"I'm very concerned about these charges from the Attorney General, and along with the rest of the community recognize how serious this allegation is. I am anxious to read the investigation from the attorney general's office, I have not seen it yet. I will do everything I can with the support of council to make sure we fully understand what occurred and put measures in place to ensure this never happens again, and to restore confidence in our community's water and wastewater system."

"You are dealing with people's lives, with children's lives. We are adults, we can take care of ourselves but we can't if we're drinking water that is contaminated," said Mary Rodriguez, a Cottonwood resident.